A Must Read Courtesy of Sir Richard Branson

“15 Small Business Lessons from Richard Branson” as reported by Ann Handley (American Express’ OpenForum.com, 23 September 2010). In a word, brilliant. So much so that nothing needs to be added.

Today AU, tomorrow the world – Part 2

“Renaissance Men Wanted: Big Problems Need Big Innovators” interview of author Vinnie Mirchandani by Thomas Wailgum (CIO.com, 14 June 2010). A quick follow up to yesterday’s post. Looks like Mr. Mirchandani casts another vote for an AU state of mind.

Today AU, tomorrow the world

“From Push to Pull: How to Navigate the ‘Big Shift’ Reshaping the World” interview of author John Hagel (ConsultingMag.com, 8 July 2010). It’s Saturday, so let’s just cut to the chase…

Consulting: What exactly is the power of pull?

Hagel: I guess it starts with a rather provocative proposition that the current management approaches and institutions that we have in business are fundamentally broken, and to support that proposition we muster a set of evidence around performance trends over long periods of time for all public companies in the United States. In particular, we show that return on assets (ROA) for all public companies in the U.S. has eroded in a very substantial and sustained rate since 1965. In fact, it has come down about 75 percent. There is no evidence of it leveling off, much less turning around. At minimum, it suggests that the current recovery of the economy debate may be a bit misleading. We’re showing some longer-term trends that have been playing out across many economic cycles that we have not been able to respond to effectively.

Consulting: And to what do you attribute that decline over the last 45 years?

Hagel: On one level, you can simply think about it in terms of intensifying competition. One of the metrics we have shows the intensity of competition has at least doubled over this time period. But at a more fundamental level, the basis of competition is changing. In the past, we lived in a world where the source of economic value was around knowledge stocks, developing a proprietary set of knowledge, protecting it fiercely and extracting the value from it as efficiently as possible for as long as possible…

Wow! That’s quite a mouthful, eh? Where we are today traces all the way back to 1965. That’s a lot of bad habits and false assumption to break and remold. No wonder the last couple year felt like a house of cards collapsing. Fortunately, there is hope…

Consulting: How would this impact the way professional service firms serve clients?

Hagel: That’s interesting: One of the key implications, we believe, is for professional service firms to organize a much broader network of expertise. Most professional service firms tend to operate as ‘we have the answers and we engage one-to-one with our clients’ as opposed to organizing a large network and help to connect that network and its expertise to clients. With more and more options competing for everyone’s attention, the notion of someone who deeply understands what a client’s needs might be and who can be helpful connecting that client to the people, information and resources that are most valuable to them will be well positioned to succeed.

Interesting enough, that sounds very similar to the Alchemy United model. Let’s just leave it at that for today. Time to run out and grab Hagel’s “Big Shift”.

Clay Shirky: How cognitive surplus will change the world

Just plain damn interesting. As found on TED.com. Watch, listen, ponder a bit and enjoy.

A trillion hours is a lot of hours, eh?

Content? Or production & distribution?

“Are We Ready to Play With Pay? The Content Value Reproposition” by Steve Smith (EContent Magazine, April 2010). As the internet allowed islands of content to drift together, the cost of being an info consuming traveler  fell, drastically. Aside from the benefit of no more dead trees, it doesn’t get any cheaper than free, does it? But now what? How are content providers supposed to survive on a business model based on free?

In the end, Steve’s article inspired the letter below. The stellar news is, the editors of EContent printed it in the July/August 2010 issue. It’s always nice to see the AU State of Mind get more love. Enjoy!

Hello Steve

I just wanted to take a moment and mention that I thought your article was very well done. However, there are two things that I would like to mention:

1) I was surprised you did not make mention of iTunes. About the only thing more ubiquitous than music is air. That said, the general belief is the content (i.e., music) is the loss leader and ol’ Steve J. & Co make their money on the hardware. Maybe “value add” is the model to follow? That is, content providers don’t just publish, but consult, host seminars, etc.

2) Early on you wrote, ” Traditional media made their ad models work because they controlled both the supply and distribution of content around a limited set of brands.” I’m not so sure this is as accurate as it could be. The advantage traditional media once held was for the most part based on production and distribution. Supply had little to do with their advantage. It was the barriers to entry (read: cost) that sustained that biz model. The People have always been willing to self-express and self-publish. It wasn’t until the early 90’s with desktop publishing software and relatively
lost cost copies from Kinko’s did that really become feasible and “mainstream” (in an underground, not quite mass market ‘zine sorta way). Today, even outside of the internet, digital printing is getting
more and more reasonable. And then there’s something like MagCloud that uses the advantages of the internet to let people self publish on demand. In short, the content has always been there.

One step further, I would argue that this is somewhat the problem with traditional media. They are under the belief they were in the content biz. They were not. The reality is, they were in the production
and distribution biz with much of their “content” coming from wire services or just regurgitating the details of events. Today, I would bet for most ball games I can get play by play via Twitter. So why watch the 11 o’clock news? Let alone read the morning paper? Those mediums are slow and costly.

Again, for the most part they have not been “creating” content, just moving it around.

Thanks again for the article.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Listen and ye shall learn

While not quite a change in venue, but how about a change in medium? Please take a moment to enjoy these two relatively short audio interviews from Harvard Business Review.

“HBR IdeaCast: Positive Deviance and Unlikely Innovators” — Interview of Richard Pascale (associate fellow of Said Business School at Oxford University) coauthor of “The Power of Positive Deviance”.

“What Copycats Know About Innovation” — Interview of Oded Shenkar, professor at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business and author of “Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge”.

“Tweet Me The Money”

“Follow the Money (Facebook, Mobile Phones and the Future of Shopping)” by Kim S. Nash (CIO Magazine, December 2009). Last week’s post on Wired’s “The Future of Money” article might have been a bit abstract and heavy duty for some. This is more particle guide to the state of the online shopping art.

Here’s a bit of inspiring food for thought:

On Facebook, millions of people declare themselves as fans of performers, products, even the president. The number-one fan page on Facebook is dedicated to the late Michael Jackson, with 10.3 million members. President Obama is next with 6.8 million. Starbucks is the biggest retail brand with 4.8 million fans. But becoming a fan of something is the equivalent of wearing a logo T-shirt. It doesn’t bring M.J. back to life, reform healthcare or sell more coffee. 1-800-Flowers intends to find out whether social networkers are also social shoppers.

As well as:

The company is also tuning its marketing volume to match Facebook’s atmosphere. That is, rather than promote products all the time in the store’s status bar, there are trivia contests and craft ideas to keep fans engaged. “This is definitely a new and unique channel. Jumping in there and hard selling is not the way to go,” he says.

Dollars and future sense

“The Future of Money” by Daniel Roth (Wired.com, March 2010). If you thought it was just about dollar and cents then think again. Roth puts one of the world’s oldest traditions in a whole new light. If you like to speculate about the future (pun intended) then this one’s for you.

Also be sure to check out the sidebar bit, “From Credit Card to PayPal: 3 Ways to Move Money”, as well as, “The New Ways to Pay” (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

The future is? – Part 2

“Bill Gates Sets Out His Global Charitable Goals” (NPR.org, 25 January 2010). As a supplement to yesterday’s post, here is a link to Mr. Gates being interviewed on National Public Radio’s (NPR) Talk of the Nation.

For the most part Mr. Gates’ perspective is global. He does however mention during the inteview that s in the United States the two biggest issue his foundation is  addressing are helping teachers and online learning. Contrast this with the fact that Uncle Sam’s approach has lead to a system where only 60% of the students who start high school actually graduate.  The irony comes when one considers how many massive corporations jump through tax loopholes to avoid paying into the system and then those same outfits also expect to have a well educated work force available so they can be even more profitable.

Is the system just dented and bent, or broken and in need of a complete makeover?

The future is?

“2010 Annual Letter from Bill Gates” by Bill Gates (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 25 Janueary 2010). While certainly not an oracle, Mr. Gates, former Microsoft head honcho, is well established and well connected and needless to say very very wealthy. If you’re curious about what’s ahead then invest some time in Mr. Gates’ thoughts.  In short, good economy, bad economy or New Economy, we have a lot of work to do.

In the event you don’t make it to the last page, Bill says:

I have decided to take the notes I make after taking a trip, reading a book, or meeting with someone interesting and pull them together on a web site called www.gatesnotes.com. This will let me share thoughts on foundation-related topics and other areas on a regular basis. I expect to write about tuberculosis, U.S. state budgets, creative capitalism, and philanthropy in Asia, among other things.

What is interesting is that many of The Gates’ concerns are resource and/or “head count” driven. Yet, there is little mention of population and population control as a means to helping solve some of these problems. We’d all agree that technolgy can be a wonderful tool, but let’s not forget about (changing) good ol’ fashion human behavior as a means to a better ends.

Home, home on the Wave

“Frequently Asked Questions About Google Wave” by LifeHacker.com (www.LifeHacker.com). Wave – some love it, some don’t, some don’t know what to think, and finally others have yet to try it. Regardless of which category you fall into this article and associated comments (which are always insightful) should help you decide where you are, or maybe where you should be on this H2O based subject.

Have you tried it? And … ?

Failure is like Red Bull, it gives you wings

Wired magazine (www.Wired.com) has collected a series of articles on failure. The title of the grouping is, “How To Fail: Screw ups, disasters, misfires, flops. Why losing big can be a winning strategy.” Take some time, these are sure to put the value of “R&D” into proper perspective.

“Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up” by Jonah Lehrer

“Stay in the Game: The Fall and Rise of Alec Baldwin” by Scott Brown

“Learn to Let Go: How Success Killed Duke Nukem” by Clive Thompson

“Time Your Attack: Oracle’s Lost Revolution” by Daniel Roth

“My Greatest Mistake: Learn From Six Luminaries” by Wired Magazine

“Accidental Art: Three Alternate Histories” by Christoph Niemann

For those who like to look up at the stars then “Six Luminaries” is the obvious first read. Other than that, just dive in. Don’t be afraid to pick the wrong one. And for those of you who like to believe that the key to success is perfection. Well, you’re making a big mistake.

It’s an execution problem

“Seeing Customers as Partners in Invention” By Mary Tripas (New York Times, 26 December 2009).

“Being customer-driven doesn’t mean asking customers what they want and then giving it to them,” says Ranjay Gulati, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “It’s about building a deep awareness of how the customer uses your product [or service].”

It’s not just about interaction and listening. It’s deeper than that. It’s about awareness and understanding. Taken a step further, it’s not about wants. It’s about meeting needs. Wants are easy. We’re all quick to recite our wants. Needs however are much more profound.

Later Ranjay is said to say:

“It’s an execution problem.” Companies, he says, “aren’t generally structured to access, absorb or utilize customer insights since they are organized by product, not by customer.”

Interesting enough, does this not sound quite similar to the ideals mentioned on our Success Realized page (as well as elsewhere within the AU framework)?

Think big but communicate small

“O’Reilly Insights: The Importance Of What You Say” by Scott Berkun (Forbes.com, 15 December 2009). A friendly but necessary reminder in the vein of Chip Heath & Dan Heath’s “Made To Stick” (Random House). Of course the idea is important, but if it can’t be communicated such that others can understand it then it’s no idea at all. The biggest take away I got from “Made To Stick” was to take care to describe your new idea (that you want to be understood) by referencing something that is already understood. I believe the example in the book was that the movie ” Snakes On A Plane” was described as Diehard With Snakes.  Got it!

A more current example is Google describing Wave as, “If email were invented today”. If you’ve used Wave you’ve probably realized that tag line is an over simplification. On the other hand, it is a bite small enough to consume without fear or confusion. Doubt, confusion, lack of comfort, etc. will kill a sale every time.

The key is to not be self-absorbed (as so many entrepreneurs are) and not to assume that everyone “gets” your product/service like you do. You have to step back and have some empathy. Success without empathy is rare. Think big but make sure when you have to communicate your ideas to others your genius is small enough for them to grasp. You don’t have to dummy it down, just keep the bites chewable.

Everybody in the pool

Depending on where you fall on the Geek IQ scale, you may or may not have heard about Google Wave (http://Wave.Google.com). The buzz around this beta release has been building over the last few weeks. Some love it. Some don’t. And most seem to be somewhere in between. While it’s too early to pass judgment my prediction is that trend will build towards love it.

Google’s pitch line is that Wave is what email would be if it were invented today. In a Made to Stick sense, that’s probably an accurate and easy to consume marketing pitch. But as user friendly as the email reference might be, Wave is not email. The analogy to the postman/woman doesn’t hold water very long. Wave is a multi-vectored communications and collaboration platform that excels in real time, and is still better than email even when it’s not. It’s a bit clunky right now in implementation but the theory behind it, simple as it might be, is stunning.

Ultimately, Wave is a collaboration tool, and collaboration depends on bodies. Where as email’s effectivenss degrades as more people get added to the To: list (i.e., the famous Reply Alls from hell), Wave increase in value as your network of collaborators grows. Unfortunately, currently Wave is a limited, invite only, beta. So unless your fellow collaborators also have Wave accounts then Wave, as it stands today, is obviously not going to be very effective.

However, as Google lets more people use Wave the more Wave’s value will increase. And thus the trend towards more people loving it. What do you think?

NYC >> Web 2.0 >> 2009 >> Douglas Rushkoff

A colleague and I were fortunate to witness this first hand a couple weeks ago. Considering that this was part of the Web 2.0 Expo’s free seminars, is simply amazing. Rushkoff alone was worth the time and the cost of the train multiplied by a few thousand, at least. Cheers to O’Reilly for bringing that event together and having Rushkoff expand our minds. Challenging, brilliant and not to be missed.

The truth about Apple

“Apple The Outlier” by Rich Karlgaard (Forbes.com, 21 October 2009). In response to Mr. Kalgaard’s blog post the following comment (below) was submitted. Maybe you’ll find it entertaining, so it’s also being shared here.

While I didn’t read every comment in detail, with all due respect, I think the essential point has been missed… When it has been more successful, Apple has been the tortoise. There are plenty of cases of Apple and/or Jobs falling on their face. How many of you are using a Next computer :)

On the other hand, where Apple has done really well, is when it slows down while others rush in. The ipod and the iphone both being great examples. Neither were new ideas. What they were were still developing ideas done a bit better and more importantly, rolled out *after* “the tipping point”. Apple doesn’t feel the need to be first to market, they’d rather get it more right their first time. They’ve come to realize the value in learning from others’ mistakes.  If there is an irony, it’s that Apple really isn’t a technolgy company (i.e., technology for technology’s sake). They understand that they are a solutions and services company, and that’s what they focus on providing.

When they get it right, Apple doesn’t waste resources trying to get to the tipping point, they let others do their bidding. In the meantime they’re using their resources (time and people) to build a better mouse trap as well as come up with the marketing spin to make it look new and exciting. I am not trying to belittle the iphone, I am only suggesting it is not the cure for cancer.

There is no doubt, Apple is a great outfit. But the reasons for that success are too often wrong and/or overstated. They have a great formula – look how their growth and market share has nudged up year by year (i.e., like a tortoise) – and at the moment it’s working quite well for them. But a smart competitor could duplicate their formula quite easily. Provided that competitor isn’t blinded by the hype, or fearful of a beast that isn’t even there.

NYC >> Web 2.0 >> 2009

For obvious reasons, this year’s Web 2.0 Expo, presented by O’Reilly, didn’t have the same buzz as last year’s. None the less, there were some pearls. Aside from a stack of brochures to consume, here’s a raw list (in no particular order) of domain names dropped during a few of the seminars/presentations:












As this list as well as the brochures are consumed in detail, there promises to be follow up posts. Grab the AU RSS feed and stay tuned.

All you, all the time

“Retail Mentor’s Roundtable” by Dan Bolton (Specialty-Coffee.com, September 2009). Someone please put a star next to Mr. Bolton’s name for this one. This is pure genius!

Answers to these two questions neatly sum up the situation:

— Do you believe the retail coffee business is harder now than it was two years ago?
— Do you believe it is going to get any better in the next two years?

Whether you were asked these questions last year (when times were bad) or this year (as times got worse) or next (as things improve), the answer is the same. “Yes, it’s getting harder. No, it’s not going to get any easier.”

So here’s another question: If the coffee business is not going to get any better in the next couple of years, then who has to get better? The answer: “You.”

If you can’t inspire you then who can?

Less news isn’t bad news

Time for some shameless self-promotion…

“News Unfit for Print” by Michelle Manafy (EContent Magazine, May 2009). The article dates back to May but what’s new is that EContect printed an AU submitted letter. Please take a moment to read what we thought and they printed. Ironically, EContent does not post printed letters on their web site.

This is my first issue of eContent and so far I like it. It’s definitely of the same quality as the other Info Today publications I read. With regards to your latest Edit This: “News Unfit for Print”, I’d like to share a couple thoughts with you (and Dennis).

I’d make the “argument” that it’s actually the true media companies that are succeeding. On the other hand, the companies and organizations that see themselves as being “newspapers”, or “television broadcasters”, etc. are the ones who are being hurt by their own archaic mind-set. Until those traditionalists realign themselves with how the market see them, they will continue to struggle. And rightfully so; where’s the surprise?

The pull quote said, “In this collapse of the media business, the ensuing news vacuum will need to be filled.” Please excuse my tone but… Pardon me, what vacuum? It is actually the ubiquitous availability of information that has destroyed the market’s need for printed / televised word. Just because less people are getting the paper or watching the news does not mean they are not keeping informed. The only vacuum I’ve seen is in the minds of traditional media companies’ and how it effects their ability to meet the needs of the market.

Thanks again for eContent. I’m looking forward to the next issue already.

Hoist a new flag,
Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

There is one additional point I’d like to add in regards to the current state of traditional news outlets. The majority of the time it’s difficult to tell if they are trying to inform me or entertain me. Between the interviews overflowing with softball sized questions to the “it’s on Twitter so it must be true” insights there’s hardly any value added and  little true news disseminated.

It’s odd that these brands wish to be taken seriously as news sources yet devote so little energy to spin-free, honest and insightful news. They want to talk the talk but they don’t want to walk the walk. That’s fine, they just shouldn’t be shocked that they’re losing a battle to their (market defined) equals.

The bottom line… If you want real news then watch, listen and/or read the BBC News.